Webscale Playbook: Tencent
Mega ‘new infrastructure’ plan to drive network spending amid U.S. sanctions
By Arun Menon

This report is the last in MTN Consulting’s Webscale Playbook series, which analyze the “Super 8” webscale network operators (WNOs), i.e. Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, and Tencent. The objective of this report is to assess Tencent’s:

  • latest quarterly key performance indicators including revenues, capex, opex, R&D, etc.
  • key tech-related spending priorities
  • network vendor relationships, M&A, and partnerships across different network product categories
  • vendor market landscape
  • network-related strategy


Tencent’s meteoric rise into one of the leading internet businesses coincides with China’s internet boom that started at the end of 20th century. According to the ITU estimates, just ~1.8% of China’s total population were internet users in the year 2000 – two years after Tencent was founded – that has now exploded to about 64%. Tencent’s initial journey began with the desktop-based instant messaging offering, QQ (initially QICQ), which slowly gained popularity and provided the company with a strong footprint in the domestic market. The start of the new decade saw more users going mobile with the increased cellphone penetration in the country, which led Tencent to launch its popular mobile instant messaging app, WeChat (Weixin in China) in 2011.

Since then, there has been no looking back for the company, which has now evolved into a sprawling conglomerate with businesses such as online gaming, advertising, audio and video streaming, cloud computing, and fintech services. Indeed, online gaming and advertising are turning into new growth engines for the Chinese internet behemoth. The exponential growth aided Tencent to top U.S.$500 billion in valuation in 2017, becoming the first Asian tech firm to achieve the feat. In addition, Tencent has become a major global investor in startups and unicorns – the tech giant even has stakes in Tesla and Snap. However, Tencent’s breakneck growth story is now under threat, with macro risks in both domestic and international markets impacting its businesses. Back home, Tencent faces regulatory curbs on online gaming, while internationally, the U.S. government recently imposed a ban on WeChat-related transactions.

Tencent would be hoping these macro risks would just turn out to be minor hiccups in its future growth path. To ensure it remains on the growth trajectory, Tencent recently announced a massive U.S. $70 billion “new infrastructure’” investment plan over the next five years that includes building next-generation data centers, self-designed servers, IoT operating systems, etc. Also, the company could potentially foray into chip development for gaining self-sufficiency and possibly end reliance on foreign chip vendors in due course – a stretch in the current scheme of things given that China currently lacks industry experience to manufacture high-end chips that could rival the ones produced by the likes of TSMC and Qualcomm. However, like Huawei, Tencent could rope in China’s largest contract chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), which gained traction recently with U.S. $2.2 billion investment from the state but is still supposedly years behind peers such as TSMC.

Below are a few highlights from the report:

  • Tencent’s capex soared in the recent few quarters with the infrastructure boost that witnessed in-house server development (called “Star Lake” servers) for the new and upcoming large-scale data centers
  • Self-developed data center servers and custom chip development plans remain critical for Tencent as its network-hungry internet-based businesses continue to grow impressively
  • Top vendor Intel is staring at an uncertain future with Tencent amid recent U.S. sanctions

Format: PDF (PPT available upon request)

Table Of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Operational scale
  3. Latest earnings results
  4. Revenue analysis
  5. Capex & R&D: Spend analysis
  6. Key spending priorities
  7. Key technology relationships
  8. Vendor market analysis
  9. Data center footprint
  10. Network strategy
  11. Appendix 1
  12. Appendix 2

Figure & Charts

  1. Tencent Revenues: 1Q19 – 2Q20
  2. YoY Growth Rate (CAPEX vs. OPEX): 1Q19 – 2Q20
  3. Profitability Margins: 1Q19 – 2Q20
  4. Revenues (Annualized & Single Quarter), & YoY Growth
  5. FY2019 Revenue Split (MTN Consulting estimates*)
  6. Annualized Capex and R&D, % Revenues
  7. Tencent’s annualized share of WNO network & IT capex (MTN Consulting estimates*)
  8. Top vendors, all years: Tencent
  9. Contracts by product, Tencent: all years